Shuttered Coney Island Amusement Park Gets Little State Government Love

Deno’s Wonder Wheel

The iconic Cyclone roller coaster and Wonder Wheel landmarks at Coney Island Amusement Park – neither of which spun this summer season for the first time in 100 years because of the COVID-19 crisis – now need some serious wheels greased.

Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, Sea Gate), along with U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens), State Sen. Diane Savino (D-C0ney Island, Staten Island) and local business owners, held a virtual rally Tuesday to call on the government to provide emergency aid for the amusement park and surrounding district businesses in Coney Island that remained shuttered during the summer months between May and September.

Council Member Mark Treyger

“Coney Island is a neighborhood that survived the great Flu of 1918. Coney Island is a neighborhood that survived major fires. Coney Island is a neighborhood that survived World War II when the home front effort had to ration metal and rubber which affected the maintenance of the amusement district,” said Treyger speaking to the history and resiliency of the area. “If you want to get a true pulse of the city, you’ll feel it in Coney Island.”

Treyger emphasized that ordinarily Coney Island is a central location for tourism and welcomes visitors to the neighborhood every year that creates a significant boost to the local economy. It’s amusement park and historic landmarks are beloved to Southern Brooklyn and beyond, said Treyger, yet Governor Andrew Cuomo has drafted reopening guidance for other indoor recreational activities.

Activities like casinos, gyms, spa services and indoor pools are now greenlit to reopen to the public, along with in-person schooling and indoor dining.

“[Yet] they have not drafted reopening guidance for outdoor amusements,” said Treyger. “Let me accentuate that word again, outdoor amusements, still do not have any guidance whatsoever in terms of reopening. I think New York State needs to be mindful that Coney Island is a part of the state and include it on the path forward as well.”

Treyger called for the city and state to come up with a plan for the amusement sector, rent relief for the amusement district businesses and subtenants, and encourage insurance companies to pay out pandemic claims for businesses that filed. 

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries
Senator Diane Savino
Senator Diane Savino (credit: Thomas Altfather Good)

“It certainly is an all hands on deck moment that’s going to require meaningful intervention at the city, state, and federal level,” said Jeffries, “The Coney Island Amusement District is the heart and soul of south Brooklyn and an important economic engine for everyday New Yorkers, both in terms of employment and the opportunity to enjoy an oasis with their friends, family, and neighbors.”  

Savino lamented about missing the annual tradition of starting the Cyclone roller coaster on Palm Sunday. “Every year no matter what we’ve been through before, guaranteed on Palm Sunday, the Cyclone will start up again, and it’s the beginning of a new season, no matter what has come before us. This year for the first time the Cyclone did not start,” said Savino.

Savino said seasonal businesses are particularly problematic and they have been warning and begging the Governor and legislators in Albany to figure out a plan since May. “We submitted a plan to the Governor’s office, they reviewed it, and they kept saying we need to wait,” said Savino.

She said even if they reopened tomorrow there needs to be a way to make up for lost revenue, and demands direct assistance for the affected businesses and park. 

Executive Director of the Alliance for Coney Island Alexandra Silversmith said, “What we’ve seen is that without the amusements open small businesses are hurting. What many don’t realize is that these are largely intergenerational family-owned establishments.” 

Silversmith said that they wouldn’t consider reopening unless it was safe, and referenced a report that stated no amusement park in the U.S has been linked to an outbreak. She said that’s the foundation for asking repeatedly for reopening guidelines.

Celebration plans for the 100th Birthday of the Wonder Wheel were also canceled this year. Dennis Vourderis, owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, said the Ferris wheel carts were designed in the last pandemic 102 years ago and meant to be distanced 50 feet apart and secluded to begin with. Vourderis said as an outdoor establishment it was unfair that they were left out of the picture and they need financial assistance.

“We appealed to the Governor early on in the season to at least let the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone open as two New York City landmarks,” said Vourderis, “We fell upon deaf ears. And we understand that it’s not the government keeping us closed, it’s the virus. But we don’t want in any way, shape, or form to spread the virus, we want to spread love.”

Vourderis said once it starts spinning again it’ll be a great symbol of normalcy.

“Everyone has a Wonder Wheel story, everyone,” said Treyger, “The Wheel will spin again.”

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